Legislative session ends well for higher education

One of the biggest successes affecting USU in the 2012 Utah Legislative Session was the boost in higher education funding, according to Neil Abercrombie, USU Government Relations director. “This session was very positive,” Abercrombie said. Budget cuts were virtually nonexistent during the legislative session this year, which USU President Stan Albrecht said was mostly positive despite all the requests for funding from colleges around the state. “It’s a difficult session — there’s a lot of money,” Albrecht said. If signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, a bill passed during the Utah legislative session appropriating higher ed funds could mean a 1 percent increase in compensation for state and higher education employees in the coming fiscal year — including those working at USU. The Legislature also gave USU $1 million for Regional Campus Distance Education, as well as one-time and ongoing funding for the Utah Science Technology Research initiative, which invests in commercializing research from USU and the University of Utah. The College of Engineering at USU will also receive a boost. “USU will benefit from a $2.5 million engineering initiative across the state for engineering degrees and faculty hires,” Abercrombie said. Higher education took a 2 percent cut last year after that number was negotiated down by the end of the session, Abercrombie said. This year, with more than a $400 million surplus, lawmakers had more to work with. Instead of cutting money from the higher education budget, the state Legislature passed a budget giving a 3 percent increase in state funding to public colleges and universities, pending approval from Herbert. Herbert’s budget recommendations in December did not include a compensation increase for higher ed employees, but these were included in the final budget after negotiations in February. Senate Higher Education Appropriations chair Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St.George, disagreed with leaving out college employees in a January blog post. “That’s not acceptable. (Higher education employees) have done more — huge enrollment increase — with less — significant budget cuts,” he said. Braden Jensen, who interned for Abercrombie during the session, said it was the intentions of the Higher Education Appropriations Committee to give compensation to state higher education employees and therefore inserted in the final budget. “I think they recognized it was a priority,” Jensen said. Another bill awaiting approval on the governor’s desk affecting students requires changes to policies regarding the concurrent enrollment classes offered to high school students. Urquhart sponsored a bill requiring high school students to pay a fee to earn credit in most concurrent enrollment classes. He said the reason for this was to relieve college students from paying for these courses out of their tuition money. The bill was amended to exempt economically disadvantaged students, “gateway” courses and those delivered digitally.

<a href=”aggietownsquare.com”>To read the rest of this two-page article in the Utah Statesman news section, click here.</a>

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